The careers of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant will forever be linked.
Jordan set the impossibly high standard that Kobe’s career will always be measured against. As time moves on, it seems that no matter what Kobe accomplishes, he will always come up tantalizingly and frustratingly short of the legend of MJ.
The same scenario played out 10 years ago to the day, on a night when Kobe was great, but Jordan was even better.
On February 1, 2003, a nearly 40-year-old Michael Jordan scored 45 points in leading the Washington Wizards over the New Orleans Hornets. Later that same evening, Kobe Bryant would score 42 as the Lakers beat the Utah Jazz.
Ten years ago, the futures of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant couldn’t have been any more different, yet the pattern played out that night as it seemingly always has: Jordan set the standard, and Kobe came up just short.
Michael Jordan, 2003
On February 1, 2003, Michael Jordan was nearing the end of his illustrious career, looking odd and overweight in a Wizards uniform—the unquestioned leader of a going-nowhere 23-25 Washington team.
Jordan was just weeks away from his 40th birthday, and Washington had lost five of its last six games. During that stretch, Jordan had shown his age by going 4-of-14 against the Bulls and 4-of-16 against the Nets. MJ was rarely getting to the rim back then and had attempted just 11 total free throws in his previous six games.
But on February 1, 2003, MJ was MJ again. He played 44 minutes and willed the Wizards to a 109-104 victory over the Hornets despite injuries to starters Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes. Jordan went 18-of-33 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line to score a game-high 45 points. He also dished out six assists and grabbed three rebounds.
Jordan would eventually retire at the end of the 2002-2003 season. His 45 points that night would remain the most points he scored during his final year in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant, 2003
At the same time MJ was preparing to fade from the NBA universe, Kobe Bryant was getting ready to dominate it.
On February 1, 2003, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were the three-time defending NBA champions while Jordan’s Wizards would miss the playoffs.
While Jordan had been struggling leading up to February 1, 2003, Kobe had been sensational. In the Lakers’ 12 games in January 2003, Kobe had averaged 30.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.4 steals while shooting 47% from the field.
But when Kobe erupted for 42 points against the Jazz on February 1, it was still three points less than Jordan had scored against the Hornets. Kobe’s four assists trailed Jordan’s six. Bryant’s 12-of-25 shooting (48 percent) was less efficient than MJ’s 18-of-33 (55 percent).
On a night 10 years ago to the day, Kobe was great, but MJ was, once again, even better.
History Repeating Itself
We all know what has happened over the last decade in the Bryant versus Jordan debate.
Kobe has since won two more titles, but he’s still one short of MJ. Kobe continues to score obscene amounts of points, but he still hasn’t caught Jordan in that all-important category, either.
No matter what Kobe Bryant seems to accomplish, the glow of the moment is eclipsed to a degree by the looming shadow cast by his hero and his nemesis, Michael Jordan.
Just as it was 10 years ago today, on February 1, 2003.